Stop abusing your official position in the name of religion, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is rebuking the Mississippi agriculture and commerce commissioner.
Andy Gipson posted a video to his official Facebook page on Aug. 18, in which he is identified by his official title and in which he is apparently sitting in his government office. The video appears to have been professionally shot and produced, suggesting government resources. Gipson tells Mississippi residents that this is “a time we need to pause and pray, and ask God to intervene in this situation. … I’m reminded in the book of Nehemiah, as they were rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem … they also prayed. It says they prayed to their god. … Ultimately, this is an opportunity for you and for me to practice what we say we believe: In God We Trust. And we can trust God to get us through this storm. Would you join me in praying for Mississippi?”
As a state official, Gipson represents a diverse population that consists of not only Christians, but also citizens with nonreligious or minority religious views, FFRF reminds him.
“Religious endorsements coming from your office needlessly alienate the nonreligious and non-Christian citizens you represent, turning them into political outsiders in their own community,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to the Mississippi agriculture and commerce commissioner. “Such social media posts send the message to your minority religious and nonreligious residents that their state government sees their views as less valued than that of their Christian counterparts.”
The Supreme Court has held that government officials violate the First Amendment if they even appear to endorse religion, FFRF underscores. By promoting his personal religious beliefs on official social media pages, Gipson violates the obligation under the Constitution as a public official.
Courts are willing to treat accounts that politicians believe to be private as official government accounts when they are used to disseminate official government communications. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that Donald Trump’s Twitter feed was composed of “official statements by the president of the United States.” (Hawaii v. Trump) FFRF sees no legal reason why Gipson’s social media accounts would be treated differently.
Even if Gipson is a Baptist minister in addition to being a government official, the U.S. Constitution still applies to him, FFRF emphasizes. That’s why he must refrain from promoting his personal religious beliefs while speaking on behalf of the government — and while using government power and resources — because he represents all Mississippians, not just Christians.
FFRF is asking Gipson to stop posting religious endorsements on his official social media pages and to immediately delete his religious video.
“Willful obliviousness isn’t an excuse for the commissioner to misuse official assets,” adds Gaylor.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members across the country, including many members in Mississippi. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about nontheism.